Detroit Lions’ Efficiency: How It Could Mean An Improved Team This Year

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The 206 Detroit Lions’ Efficiency Numbers Suggest Huge Potential For A Prolific Offense

The Lions’ offensive production last year is not something that is easy to dissect. The offense as a whole was an outlier in terms of game planning, which led to them being an outlier in many statistical categories.

The Lions’ efficiency on the other hand, was actually quite good. After taking a long look at some of Football Outsider’s efficiency numbers, I’ve put together a recap of what happened with the offense last year, and how this offense can improve going forward if they move in the direction of a more traditional offense, or at least an offense that can gravitate more toward the average in certain categories.

Starting A Drive

The Detroit Lions dealt with abysmal field position last season. Anyone who watched them understood that this was largely due to the fact that Andre Roberts consistently returned kickoffs from deep inside the end zone and failed to get to the 25 yard line. This wasn’t the entire story.

The Lions were actually ranked slightly better in their field position per kick off than they were in their field position per drive. This indicates flaws in the defense. Well known, brutal, flaws on the defense. This didn’t help the Lions’ efficiency in terms of scoring.

These are both obvious flaws that the Detroit Lions had last year, but they are also flaws that will, hopefully improve this year.

The defense is undoubtedly improved since 2016. The weakest link on the defensive side of the ball was the linebackers. The Lions went to great lengths to improve this positional group and may still improve it further.

Adding Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin certainly showed the dedication to improving the position. They also added Paul Worrilow, Antoine Williams has another year of experience under his belt, and Tahir Whitehead has moved to a position more favorable to his skill set.

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In terms of the return game, Andre Roberts is no longer with the team. He did an admirable job in the punt return game, but the loss in that area should be counteracted by the defense. There should be tangible gains in the kick return game.

Bob Quinn prides himself on his dedication to special teams. He has brought in talent in a variety of different ways to fight for the return job in this upcoming season. We should see improvement in that area in the same way that we saw improvement in the other facets of special teams since he took the reins of the organization.

With an improvement here, based on the Lions efficiency, their output should also improve. The idea is that, if the Detroit Lions can improve their defense, their kick returning, or both, the field position should improve this year.

It is tough to rank that poorly in something that is so inconsistent two years in a row. The Lions should improve, and that will help the offense produce points.

Time Of Possession

The Lions had the most plays per drive and also the most time of possession per drive. They moved the ball effectively in small gains that moved the chains and ate up clock. The more time a drive takes, the less time that is left remaining for more drives.

This was the story of the total offensive production last year. While efficient, they didn’t put up the gaudy numbers to match the Lions’ efficiency. With an improved defense, the offense should move away from the clock-management offense and more toward a traditional offense.

This will help produce points. The coaching staff will attempt to increase offensive production while keeping opposing offensive production the same. Thus, the increase in offensive production will correlate directly to the increase in the Lions’ efficiency on defense.

Total Number Of Drives

The Lions played the dink-and-dunk offense all year to avoid letting their abysmal defense on the field. Predictably, the Lions ranked last in the total number of offensive drives that they had over the course of the year.

This is not just a product of how long they held onto the ball, but also the fact that the other team could basically drive on the defense at will. The defensive drives consisted of giving up a lot of short passes over the middle and “bending” and sometimes breaking.

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The result was long drives from both the offense and the defense. When the offense is staying on the field longer than the average team on every drive, and the defense is doing the same, the team is going to see very few offensive opportunities.

To give you an idea of how few the offensive drives the Lions had last year, the Lions ranked absolute last in total number of offensive drives. Not only did they rank last, but they were 13 behind the Minnesota Vikings, the team with the next fewest offensive drives.

The highest differential between any other adjacent-ranking team was four. Four. The Lions didn’t just have the fewest drives, but they had the fewest drives by a very far margin.

Turnovers Per Drive

The Lions fared favorably in the turnover category this past year. The Lions were tied for fifth fewest turnovers over the course of the season with 15. In terms of takeaways, the team did not fare as well.

They ranked fifth worst, forcing turnovers only 14 times. These numbers are extremely low, again due to the fact that the team had fewer total drives than other teams.

In terms of fumbling the ball away, the Lions, on a per drive basis, were still ranked among the best. The team fumbled the ball away at the fourth lowest per drive rate.

Interceptions on the other hand, were a lot closer to league average. The Lions threw an interception about once every 15 drives. The league average was about one every 14 drives. They were slightly above average, but not nearly as effective at taking care of the football as the numbers would indicate.

Yards Per Drive and Three-and-Outs

The Detroit Lions had a hard time getting drives going. They were the eight worst team in the NFL when it came to three-and-outs. One out of every four and a half drives ended in going three-and-out.

For a team that has so few drives, this is a crippling statistic. If a team is going to actively limit the number of drives that they have offensively, they need to ensure that they are making the most of those drives.

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The Lions were very effective at gaining yards when they were able to sustain drives. They ranked fifth with 35.7 yards per drive. When the Lions were able to get a drive going, they were able to move the ball effectively down the field.

This is especially impressive given the rate at which the Lions went three-and-out. If they had limited those, this could have been an even more impressive number.

Scoring Efficiency

The Lions were about league average when it came to the rate at which they were scoring touchdowns. They ranked 15th, scoring a touchdown about every four and a half drive. They ranked third in the league, kicking a field goal about every five drives.

Overall, this was good for thirteenth in the league. The field goal rate failed to help the Lions ascend into the upper scoring efficiency echelons.

The Lions touchdown to field goal ratio was 28th in the league. Their ratio was over doubled by three teams in the NFL. The Lions need to get better about converting drives into touchdowns if they want to truly improve their scoring efficiency numbers.

The field goals are great, but the best offenses in the NFL score touchdowns. The Lions’ efficiency needs to improve in this area to become a prolific offense.

Lions’ Efficiency In The Red Zone

The Lions were not as bad in the red zone as they often appeared. There were a few specific games that really made them appear to be a poor red zone team. On the whole, the Lions ranked 18th in touchdowns per red zone attempt, scoring touchdowns 54.3% of their trips to the red zone and ranked 16th in points per red zone trip.

The difference between the two came on the accuracy of Matt Prater. Overall, they were a pretty average team in the red zone.

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What Does This Say About The 2016 Lions?

These numbers paint a pretty accurate picture of what we saw from the 2016 Detroit Lions. The Lions started drives off poorly, often starting deep in their own territory. They also had a hard time starting drives.

They had far too many drives that went three-and-out. Once they were able to pick up that first first down, they were able to sustain long drives, both in terms of time of possession and yardage gained.

The Lions had trouble finishing drives. The Lions’ efficiency in terms of scoring was about average, but should have ranked much higher based on the number of yards they were gaining on an average drive.

This was evidenced by their skewed touchdown to field goal ratio. The Lions would drive far enough to get into field goal range and stall out far too often. Their ability to score touchdowns was average compared to the rest of the league, but their high field goal number indicates that they put themselves in the position to score more touchdowns than they did.

Their red zone numbers were average pretty much across the board. They were lacking a little in the touchdown column, but not nearly as much as what they might have appeared to. They struggled more in getting their successful drives to the red zone than they did in getting their red zone opportunities into the end zone.

What Does This Say About The 2017 Lions?

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The Lions are probably not going to get to league average in all of the categories that they struggled in. The nature of these statistics also means that changing some statistics would likely have other consequences that we can’t account for.

That said, bringing some of their struggling areas to league average could give us a picture of what the Lions offensive potential could be if they ran a more traditional offense with more traditional pacing.

If the Lions had league average starting field position, they would have started an extra three yards closer to the end zone. This doesn’t sound like much, but efficiency numbers between teams are often very small over the course of a season.

If we take those three yards and add them to the Lions’ yards per drive, the Lions would have moved from fifth to third in yards per drive. Obviously, these are special teams yards, but they are extra yards that the Lions would add to their drives.

If the Lions’ defense was able to limit the opposing team’s ability to drive on them, effectively bringing their time of possession per drive to the league average, the reverse effect would obviously happen.

The Lions could increase their time of possession per game by about four and a half minutes. This would be enough time for more than one of the Lions offense’s standard drives. If we apply their points per drive rate from last year, this would add about 2.9 points per game.

That is obviously not perfect look at things. Both teams usually dictate time of possession. Tempos change based on game situation. However, if the Lions moved their total number of drives to league average.

This is a much more accurate look at how a typical game is played, and the Lions add 3.33 points per game. While neither of these numbers are perfect, the point stands that they could significantly improve their offense by just increasing the number of drives that they have on offense.

This is obvious, but the thought is that the Lions will move closer to the average this season. Their defense is improved, and last year’s game plan is probably not a sustainable plan going into next year.

To give you an idea of how large an impact this would have, three points per game would have brought the Lions from the 22nd best scoring team to the 15th. We all remember how close the games were for the Lions last year.

Those three points would have been huge in either direction. The Lions would have had the 15th ranked offense without any semblance of a running game. There should be a better run game this year, meaning that the team could improve even more than this.

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Stafford looked really good last year. He was better at taking care of the football, but these numbers suggest that, while he has improved, he is still not excellent at keeping the ball away from defenders.

Hopefully he can take another step forward in that area this year. More drives obviously lead to more turnovers, but ideally, the Lions continue to take the steps to limit turnovers while increasing offensive output.

Less three and outs, means more opportunities to score. If the Lions were able to reduce their three and out percentage to league average, they would increase their scoring output significantly. With a league average three-and-out rate, the Lions, at last years pacing, would have had an extra 12 drives.

At 2.13 points per drive, this would result in about 25.6 extra points over the course of the season, or about 1.6 points per game. This would have brought their scoring offense from ranked 22nd to 17th, another significant increase.

Finally, if the Lions can move their field goal to touchdown ratio to the league average, we see the largest increase in points per game. This would increase their points per game by almost 37 percent.

This would equate to 28.3 points per game, ranking 4th, just behind the Patriots and just ahead of the Packers. The Lions were obviously moving the ball effectively. They just didn’t convert those drives into as many touchdowns as they should have.

Some of this can be attributed to Matt Prater’s ability to hit long field goals, but not all of it. The Lions have room for improvement here, and they have the tools to improve in this upcoming season.

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The Lions will likely not be able to maintain this efficiency while simultaneously improving in all these areas. They should be able to improve in some of these areas though. The Lions left a lot of points off the board this past year.

The Lions lost some of those points due to lack of opportunity. Some of those points were due to a clock-eating game plan. A couple of those points were due to slow starts to drives. Some were likely the product of poor average starting field position. Some were the product of the Lion’s inability to turn productive drives into red zone trips.

Regardless, there are a lot of areas that the Lions stand to improve in. These improvements should translate directly into points, one way or the other. This offense has a lot of potential. They just have to reach it.

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Thanks for checking out the article everyone. Go Lions! You can follow me on Twitter @Lanny1925 and be sure to join the community on the Detroit Lions subreddit.

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About the Author

Sean Lanigan
I love fantasy football, fantasy baseball, music, books, video games, and all things nerd. I'm a big football fan and a bigger Detroit Lions fan. I was born in Michigan but have spent the vast majority of my life living in Viking and Packer country. If you are a Lions fan in Minnesota, hit me up, and let's watch some football.